Three young South Asian Muslim men gather at a local shisha lounge to relax and banter…
THIS is an extremely well-acted and dynamic new play which scrutinises the way young South Asian Muslim men relate to themselves and the world around them.
A three-hander by debut writer Mohamed-Zain Dada, it is also well produced: funny, powerful and absorbing.
Our only point of contention is trusty stale trope that we might be reacting against a little personally is – a radio channel (media) – becomes the villain of the piece.
Our intrepid three are schoolfriends and now young adults, who find themselves drawn to a particular hangout, Chunkyz Shisha Club.
They enjoy smoking, sharing laughs and mildly and affectionately ribbing each other. It is very entertaining – the dialogue is sharp, authentic, and reveals a lot about each of them.
They all appear to come from working class homes – but not too much is revealed about their family circumstances – for example we don’t know whether they have siblings or not or what their relationships are like with their fathers.
Asif (Salman Akhtar – far left in the picture above), we know, is with his single mother at home and is looking to settle down and is on a Muslim dating app.
Rashid (Arian Nik – right in the picture above) is a part-time gym instructor and airport baggage handler and has been with his teenage sweetheart for a while since school and is also looking to settle down.
Jihad (Omar Bynon) has aspirations – having gone to university and returned home, he is looking to get into the media.
This is where the play begins to take a little bit of a turn – Jihad is very taken by a new Muslim channel that is into doing stories that go against the mainstream narrative and plough a different furrow.
These guys are far more sensitive than your average white dude – sorry, the world is mostly theirs in Britain – and anyone outside that, experiences the world (quite – in some cases -) differently.
And as well as being brown and carrying that on their shoulders as well – they are Muslim and there are further challenges from outside their community on their developing identity and aspirations.
They know there is prejudice and discrimination out there against them as Muslims – nevertheless, they are all positive individuals and attractive in their good nature, humour and their ambitions are commendable and utterly relatable. They just want to get on…who doesn’t?
Unfortunately, the media trope begins to play its hand in the latter half – we are presented with personalities from this forward-looking supposedly, progressive media channel/platform.
It isn’t clear what ethincity these folks are or whether they too are Muslim – but being a Muslim channel, you might expect there to be a presenter or two and an executive or more from the guys’ same community.
If this was just another ‘white’ channel then the figures we are presented and who interact with Jihad – are stereotypes many of us would be familiar with… the posho liberals and all that.
They encourage Jihad to do a radio/podcast story about Chunkyz and the men who frequent it – while it is a very male play – director Milli Bhatia and Dada present us with men who are not angels – nor evil or aggressive or any of that – these are guys you might well talk to and like at work or at a gym. They are just decent, funny, interesting, ordinary blokes. Ok so one has a slightly tormented back story…
On the surface this channel likes what Jihad is going to say – these guys have aspirations and hopes and plans and while they know parts of this world might be against them they are prepared to give it their best shot…
Ok, that is not so interesting is it – the channel begins to question… Do people really want to know about young men and their dreams – to own a business, to get married to their sweetheart, to settle down and relieve some of the pressures on a dear mother…
Slowly, the channel makes it clear it is looking for a very different kind of story from Jihad.
Rather predictably, he falls for it and is feted by the wider media for uncovering the supposed truth behind Chunkyz and the men who go there. Of course it is exaggerated and taken much out of context.
We won’t spell it all out exactly but am sure you can get it.
The play retains its power, even when it is clear what Jihad has done, you feel the hurt experienced by Asif and Rashid. The pair draw closer together – and against Jihad.
There is a great set piece scene towards the end, with Rashid showing unexpected generosity to Jihad. Both these mens’ lives have been turned upside down by Jihad – and for what?
Dada is a talented dramatist and this is impressive fare for a first time writer – but the media is too an easy target, we feel…
That’s our only gripe but Dada has lots of interesting stuff to say and these actors do his play great justice.
Acv rating: *** ½ (out of five)
Blue Mist (October 5) to Saturday, November 18, by Mohamed-Zain Dada at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, The Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS
Box office: 020 7565 5000